There are certain artists that influence your life and your writing and your style as a songwriter so much so that seeing them perform live seems like a dream that can never come true. This is especially the case when you are referring to Jeff Mangum, the extremely elusive genius behind Neutral Milk Hotel. During the past few years, he has played only a handful of shows in small venues that sell out quickly and don’t allow any photos or videos. Danny somehow got to see him a couple years ago in DC. In November I received the email that announced that Jeff would be playing the DuPont Theater in Wilmington and I couldn’t believe that he would be so close and I knew that I needed tickets. So. When they went on sale, I was in a parking lot in DC at my lunch break and somehow got through on my phone at 12:01pm to purchase 4 tickets via R5 Productions. It was exciting. It felt unreal.
I meant to write about this much earlier, but life. Anyway, I brought Erin, my brother Ben, and my cousin Kirk. There were many different types of people at the show. The DuPont Theater is beautiful. I have only ever been there before for theater productions though, not for a concert. The opening act, Tall Firs, was meh. Erin thinks that we could have done better, which could be true. They finished and the crew brought out a rack full of guitars and we waited for Jeff.
He walked on stage. The only girl I’ve ever loved was born with roses in her eyes / But then they buried her alive one evening 1945. This was happening live in front of me and it was something I never thought I would see and it was right there and it was amazing. Depressing tunes yelled beautifully into a crowd that mimicked horn parts and sang along to every single word. It was beautiful.
I only cover a few NMH songs, but I am always astounded by the stark simplicity of his writing and song structure. Jeff tells stories in a creative manner and weaves words together that you would never expect and somehow it all comes out sounding so…right. Even without the full orchestration and a backing band, Jeff was amazing just singing with one guitar. It’s all about the songs, not the production. Erin has recently gotten me into listening to Amanda Palmer a lot and her writing reminds me of Jeff as well. She says something in “Ukulele Anthem” (an awesome song) that really rings true to me in regards to writing folky-type music:
“…and stop pretending art is hard
just limit yourself to three chords
and do not practice daily
you’ll minimize some stranger’s sadness
with a piece of wood and plastic”
When people ask, I say that I do not consider myself to be a musician. I enjoy playing music immensely, but I don’t know theory or techniques well like the people whom I consider to be proper musicians (like Erin and Em) do. For me, songwriting is my craft and I try to create stories and songs that are worth listening to. The chords that I play and what key I am in do not matter to me as much as getting into a listener’s head and communicating something with what I sing. Yeah. I’m not sure if I have explained this properly, but what I am trying to say is that I might never write something musically impressive, but I do hope that one day I can write songs like those on NMH records. Songs that are worth hearing and that people want to play along with and share with their friends and dream about seeing them performed live. That is all.
Two-Headed Boy, Part Two
Song Against Sex
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
The King of Carrot Flowers, Part One
The King of Carrot Flowers, Parts Two & Three
A Baby for Pree
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
“Since January 17, 2006, you have read a total of 26,180 items.”
I read a lot of blogs. Friends’ blogs, web comics, science-y news, computing and tech and geek blogs, power industry blogs, independent music industry insight, my favorite bands, local news, and many others. Google Reader was the most convenient way to keep track of all of my 163 RSS feed subscriptions, but it is now scheduled to retire on 7/1/13. This means that I need a replacement web-based free RSS reader that isn’t awful and can conveniently import my existing subscriptions.
Andrew suggested possibly using NewsBlur, but that is restricted to 64 subscriptions with a free account. His other option that we’ll both probably try out for now is The Old Reader, which has no mobile app yet because it is so new (and is currently overloaded from new users flocking to it, so it cannot import subscriptions from Google at the moment). Other recommendations that I saw on Reddit and Slashdot and other forums were MsgBoy, Feedly, and Bloglines. Here is “Top 10 Alternatives to Google Reader and “State of RSS Readers.”
Technology is weird. I don’t blame Google for taking away a free service; it’s just an annoyance. Forbes has this post which I also liked “Google Reader Shutdown a Sobering Reminder That ‘Our’ Technology Isn’t Ours.”
Mark Rogers of WSTW’s Hometown Heroes worked with Gable Music Ventures to put on the 7th Annual Homey Awards live for the first time ever this past Friday night at World Cafe Live at the Queen. It was so much fun. Lots of our musician friends were there. Some great bands played (Ike!) and the entire night was wonderful.
The Honey Badgers got to announce the award for Best Collaboration. Unfortunately, we did not win anything this year (congrats to Kyle Swartzwelder for winning Best Folk/Americana Artist), but we were pronounced Best Dressed by a couple intoxicated men. It was a really enjoyable night. I’m looking forward to releasing our new EP and full length this year and hopefully winning an award when it comes time for next year’s awards ^_^
February Album Writing Month 2013 is complete. I was severely lacking in my writing this year because being an adult is the worst thing ever. My final paper for my first graduate class was due Sunday night, so I was spending most of my time on that.
Today is Friday. On Tuesday morning, I had only posted four out of fourteen songs. Somehow I ended up with sixteen.
Tuesday night I recorded Erin’s song, “Lullaby for Little Bird” at her apartment. All I did was play guitar, so I don’t count that much as writing a song, but it was a fun collaboration and it’s an incredible song:
Wednesday night after work I completed a song skirmish (where a bunch of people all write and record a song with the same title in under an hour) called “Underneath” (#5)
Thursday morning I woke up and wrote “Kind of Girl” (#6) at 6:30am on banjo. You can tell that my roommates were probably beginning to love me more than previously.
After work it was game time. Eight more songs to write and record before 7am? Yes please.
Then Erin came over so that we could record “As One” – a tune I originally wrote on mandolin on Tuesday afternoon I think. We had to change the key for our voices, so the mandolin part got too complicated on account of my huge fingers on a tiny mandolin fretboard. #9.
Then I uploaded a minute long “Tweetable Song” that was only 140 characters long. That’s #10.
Nathan Surles had written some lyrics creating a story out of my “Doug the Stink Bug” character and his Avocado song. In “Doug and the Damsel Fly,” the stink bug sings with The Honey Badgers and falls in love with a damsel fly. That’s stink bug song #2 and collaboration #3. Since I only wrote the melody and music for this, I didn’t count it for my 14 songs.
This is where things started to get weird. “Scrapple is the Best Breakfast Meat Ever” was song #11 and I have no idea where it came from. Probably the pot of coffee that I had already consumed so far.
I was really pleased with how “At Both Ends” turned out. It was a combination of some different pieces of advice that I’ve been given over the past few years. Harmonica playing at 2am = #12.
“Kill All the Stink Bugs” was the last song that I recorded for the night. #13 was stink bug song #3. Stink bugs really annoy me if you can’t tell.
My last song is called “Two Tons” and is sort of about people not paying attention while they’re driving and is written in the style of The Mountain Goats, so I really did not want to be yelling and waking people up at 3am. So I created song #14 (really #16 on the site) and called it a night. Hopefully I can track that demo this weekend ^_^ Finished FAWM!!
Here are some of the songs that I uploaded to my Soundcloud account:
I sort of wish that I had taken some vacation in order to relax and have the free time available to write without rushing and more importantly to collaborate. I had been planning to write more with Erin. I was also hoping to have collaborated with Em McKeever and Matthew Halley (they are both incredible), but time did not allow for it. Hopefully next year. Or before then ^_^
2013 was my fifth FAWM and was, like always, completely different than every other year. I’m really looking forward to our annual FAWM showcase event (hosted by the amazing Emkeev). This year it will be on Saturday 3/16 at 7pm at the Film Brothers Co-op on North Market Street in Wilmington. Excited.